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USS Grunion (SS-216)

USS Grunion (SS-216) patch

The USS Grunion (SS-216) was a Gato-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Grunion is a small, silvery food fish, of the genus Leuresthes. It is found in southern California and on the Pacific coast of Mexico. They have an unusual mating ritual whereby they spawn at high tide in wet sand.

The radio call sign of the USS Grunion was NAN-UNCLE-DOG-PETER.

On June 30, 1942, the Grunion, captained by Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele, left Pearl Harbor for her first and final war patrol. The Grunion reached Midway Island where she topped off her fuel and provisions, and then headed for her assigned area westward of Attu Island to patrol the shipping lanes between the Aleutians and the Japanese Empire. When the Grunion reached Attu, the USS Trigger was shifted from there to Kiska. After about a week, the Grunion and the Trigger exchanged areas. On July 15, 1942, the Grunion was positioned thirty-five miles northwest of Kiska when she was attacked by a Japanese destroyer. Abele fired three torpedoes at the Japanese warship and missed. Later the same day, while the Grunion was positioned west of Sredni Point, Abele sighted what he identified mistakenly as three Japanese destroyers. The three Japanese warships comprised Sub Chaser Squadron 13, made up of Sub Chaser 25 (CH-25), Sub Chaser 26 (CH-26) and Sub Chaser 27 (CH-27). Abele fired torpedoes at the vessels and the submarine chasers CH-25 and CH-27 were hit and sunk. CH-26 was possibly damaged. On July 28, 1942, the Grunion fired two torpedoes at an unidentified ship and missed. On July 30, 1942, Abele reported heavy antisubmarine activity at Kiska and said he had ten torpedoes remaining. He was ordered to return to Dutch Harbor. Nothing more was ever heard from the Grunion. Air searches off Kiska were fruitless. On October 5, 1942, it was announced publically that she was assumed lost with all hands. 1

Navy Department Communiqué No. 139, October 5, 1942

Pacific Area.

1. The U. S. S. Grunion (submarine) has been overdue in the Pacific for some time and must be presumed to be lost.

2. The next of kin of the personnel of the Grunion have been notified.

Her name was struck from the Navy List on November 2, 1942.

Japanese records examined after the war did not contain evidence of any antisubmarine attacks in the Kiska area that could account for the Grunion's disappearance. The fate of the Grunion remained a mystery. Her loss was presumed to have been due to an operational issue or as a result of an unrecorded enemy attack. Some researchers believed she had been sunk by the Japanese submarine I-25, which had reported sinking a submarine in the area. However, Japanese records reviewed after the war proved that the submarine I-25 had reported sinking was actually the 1,039-ton Russian Leninets or L-class mine laying submarine L-16, which was sailing from Petropavlovsk, Siberia via Dutch Harbor, Alaska to San Francisco. The sinking occurred on October 11, 1942, at 45° 41' N, 138° 56' E2

In 1987, Vernon J. Miller wrote that the Grunion was probably sunk after 0601 hours, on July 31, 1942, about ten nautical miles north of Segula Island, just east of Kiska Island, by gunfire from the Japanese transport vessel Kashima Maru, which was previously named Kano Maru. (In later years, it would be proved that the vessel responsible for the gunfire was named Kano Maru.) Japanese crewmen aboard the vessel observed a hit on the submarine, followed by a dull underwater explosion. The Japanese minelayer Ishizaki and submarine chaser Ch 26 observed oil and pieces of life preservers at the place of the explosion. Also, oil continued to rise to the surface from three different places for several days. The Japanese reported that the Grunion had transmited a radio report just prior to making a torpedo attack on the Kano Maru and did not make any such report afterwards. There is no evidence in Navy records that this report was ever made. 3

In 2001, Captain Abele's son, Bruce Abele, received information about a Japanese website that might contain clues about the fate of the Grunion. Abele's youngest brother, John, contacted the person who had posted the information, Utaka Iwasaki. Iwasaki translated and sent him a report written in the 1960s by a Japanese military officer who served in the Aleutians on the Japanese freighter Kano Maru. The report describes a July 31, 1942 confrontation between a submarine and the Kano Maru off Kiska. The report also contains observations made by witnesses of the attack who were aboard the freighter. According to this information, the submarine fired a total of six torpedoes at the Kano Maru. One torpedo hit her. It exploded, crippling the main engine and generator, causing flooding in the vessel's machinery room, and leaving her afloat but powerless. Two torpedoes struck the vessel but were duds. Two of the last three torpedoes fired by the Grunion hit the Kano Maru, but did not explode. The last one passed astern. At the same time, crewmen aboard the Kano Maru reported seeing bubbles on the surface moving in a circular pattern about 200 to 300 meters away. Simultaneous with spotting the moving-bubble formation, the Grunion's conning tower broke the surface at the head of the line of bubbles and the waves began splashing against it. At the same moment, an eight-centimeter shell from the Kano Maru's deck gun hit the washing-wave area. It was followed by a large black and brown-colored water column and dull-explosion sound. A thin black bar appeared on the surface and then sank. Witnesses also reported seeing heavy oil on the surface and surmised that perhaps the Grunion had tried to surface to try to sink the Kano Maru with gunfire. The Japanese believed the Kano Maru's deck gun had hit the submarine's conning tower, delivering a fatal blow for the submarine. Later that day, the Japanese sub chaser CH-26, minelayer Ishizaki, and cable layer Ukishima investigated the area and found oil slicks, a piece of a lifeguard buoy, submarine deck material, and other submarine debris floating on the surface. Armed with this information Bruce Abele and his brothers hired a marine survey firm, Seattle-based Williamson and Associates, for an expedition to Kiska. Aboard a Bering Sea crab boat, more than a dozen crew members and sonar surveyors set out on August 2, 2006. In mid-August, the sonar picked up a 290-foot-long object at the geographic position 52° 08' N, 177° 52' E. It was wedged into a terrace on the steep underwater slope of a volcano in the area where the submarine confronted Kano Maru. The surveyors were ninety-five percent sure the shadowy images were those of the USS Grunion. It was the only known sunken vessel in the area, and the sonar captured the distinct outline of a submarine conning tower. On August 23, 2007, a second expedition was made to the site. This team studied the style of the sunken submarine's conning tower and prop guards. On October 3, 2008, the U. S. Navy confirmed the wreckage is that of the USS Grunion. However, the Navy did not state how the Grunion was lost. The cause of the Grunion's sinking remains a mystery. 4

A list of the personnel lost with the Grunion is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.

The Grunion received one battle star for her World War II service. She was scored by JANAC and SORG for sinking 600 tons in two enemy vessels. Her Alden-McDonald score is three vessels sunk for 9,492 tons. The Alden-McDonald analysis shares the credit for the total destruction of the Kano Maru between the Grunion and U. S. Navy PBY Catalina aircraft. The Kano Maru was disabled by a torpedo fired by the Grunion. It was towed to Kiska Harbor and unloaded there. On September 15, 1942, it was destroyed by the Catalina aircraft and was beached and abandoned. 5

On its maiden cruise to the Pacific, while en route from New London to Panama in a heavy gale, the Grunion rescued sixteen men in a lifeboat from a merchant ship that had been torpedoed by a German u-boat. The men were brought aboard the Grunion and brought to safety at Panama. One of the survivors, the ship's engineer, later wrote, "I have never seen such wonderful seamanship as Abele executed when he rescued us." 6

Loss Possibilities

1. The crewmen aboard the Kano Maru believed that the eight-centimeter shell had caused the conning tower to explode, thereby causing the Grunion to sink. Subject-matter experts have opined that the conning tower could not have exploded as described by the crewmen because the eight-centimeter shell was simply not powerful enough to cause such a large explosion. Photographic evidence of the fairwater free-flooding area just in front of the conning tower indicates it was not damaged by implosion and it does not reveal any evidence of shell penetration. 7

2. The Kano Maru witnesses reported seeing bubbles on the sea's surface moving in a semicircle. At the vanguard of the bubbles a large black and brown column of water appeared, a thin black metal bar was jettisoned above the surface and then fell back and sank, and oil was seen on the surface. The thin black bar was probably the air flask of one of the Grunion's torpedoes, the warhead having broken off undetonated when it hit the submarine. Subject-matter experts have opined that the bubbles on the surface reported by the crewmen could have been caused by the circular run of a torpedo. Photographic evidence of the Grunion's wreck shows that the entire shear assembly (the structure holding the periscopes) is bent forward, toward the submarine's bow. They are bent in the same heading the submarine made as it slid down the slope of a underwater volcano. This indicates that it is unlikey the damage to the shears was caused by contact with the volcano. It is more likely that the bend was caused by a torpedo. A 3,500 pound torpedo traveling at high speed would make a significant impact. It is possible that Abele was not aware that it was one of his torpedoes that had circled back and smashed into the upper shears at the rear of the conning tower, rocking the entire boat. Instead, Abele probably thought that a Japanese aircraft had dropped a bomb which was a dud. In anticipation of another one coming, he ordered the diving officer to dive the boat. Photographic evidence of the Grunion's wreck disclosed her stern dive planes are jammed in a full-dive position. The dive planes were not controlled hydraulically. Instead, a lengthy mechanical linkage prone to jamming was used. The position of the jammed dive planes probably caused the Grunion to make a steep dive angle from which it was impossible to recover. The column of water reported by the Kano Maru's crewmen was probably caused by the massive bubble of air that rose to the surface when the Grunion imploded as it passed her crush-depth limit.  7

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores


1. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 271; Holmes, Wilfred J., Undersea Victory: The Influence of Submarine Operations on the War in the Pacific, p. 154; Stevens, Peter F. Fatal Dive: Solving the World War II Mystery of the USS Grunion, p. 39-81; Beach, Edward L., Submarine!, p. 8-9; Beach, Edward L., Salt and Steel: Reflection's of a Submariner, p. 97-98, 101-102; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Subchaser CH-25: Tabular Record of Movement," "IJN Subchaser CH-26: Tabular Record of Movement," "IJN Subchaser CH-27: Tabular Record of Movement," all published online at Combined Fleet; and, Abele, Brad, "Jim," published online at NavSource.

2. Reports that Grunion was torpedoed on July 30, 1942 by Japanese submarine I-25 are erroneous because the submarine was at Yokosuka on July 17, 1942 and did not sail again until August 15, 1942. Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 43, p. 208; Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp, "IJN I-25: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet; and United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 28.

3. Miller, Vernon J., op. cit.

4. See "Attack Analysis," published online at The Search for the Grunion Blog; "Navy Confirms Sunken Submarine is Grunion," COMSUBPAC Public Affairs, published online Navy News Service; Dunham, Mike, "After 70 years, mystery endures over fate of USS Grunion," Anchorage Daily News, May 30, 2011,; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Subchaser CH-26: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet; Abele, Bruce, and Brad Abele and John Abele, Our Search for Jim: A photo supplement for Fatal Dive, p. 59-70; and Stevens, Peter F., Fatal Dive: Solving the World War II Mystery of the USS Grunion, p. 169-173.

5. Alden, John D., and Craig R. McDonald, United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, see USS Grunion (SS-216), Attack Nos. 236, 237, and 252; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, data collected by the Submarine Operations Research Group (SORG) in the report "Results of U. S. Submarine War Patrols Listed Alphabetically by Name of Submarine"; Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Grunion (SS-216).

6. Blair, Clay, Jr., op. cit., p. 271.

7. Abele, Brad, "Jim," p 4-7, published online NavSource; Stevens, Peter F., op. cit., p. 153-163 and 169-173; Abele, Bruce, and Brad Abele and John Abele, op. cit., p. 67-70.